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IZ

Agency in the Gaurjfya
Tradition

Vai~rtava

Satyanarayana Dasa and jonathan B. Edelmann
Thus, this [self] who has been completely blessed, having arisen out of this [physical] body approaches the
supreme illumination, and he is fully established in
his own form. He is a liberated person. In that place,
he roams about, [while] laughing, playing, and enjoying with won~en, vehicles, or relatives, without remembering this physical body. 1
-CH8.NDOGYA UPANI9AD

8.12.3

Therein the residents, in vehicles with their wives,
sing about the activities-which can destroy impurities-of the Lord.
The blossoming sweet Madhavf flower in the water
divides their attention by its .fragrance,
yet they scorn the breeze [canying it].
-BH8.GAVATA PUR8.lfA

3.15.17

agency in a Hindu devotional (bhakti) tradition known as Gaw;l!ya Vai~:r;avism or Caitanya Vai~:r;avism, which
takes its religious inspiration from Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534
cE). Caitanya was born in the town of Navadv!pa in West Bengal, then
called Gaw;la, from which the Gauc;l!ya Vai~:r;ava tradition gets its name.
THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES

1.

Unless noted, all translations are our own.

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

As a leading school in the bhakti movements of medieval North India,
the Gaw;l!yas advocated religious practices centered on loving devotion
for God, considering the Bhagavata Pura!Ja (henceforth Bhagavata) the
most important scripture. Gaw;lryas understand the Bhagavata as teaching that one should cultivate love for God through the performance of
actions such as hearing and reciting names of Vi~IJ.U, Kr~IJ.a, Govinda,
Rama, et cetera. These actions are called the means (abhidheya) of
achieving the ultimate goal of life (prayojana), which is such love. 2 For
Gauc,lrya Vai~IJ.avas, devotion is thus both the means and the end; the
soul's devotion for God continues even in the liberated state, which is
alluded to in the verses quoted above. Devotional traditions such as this
must affirm the self's agency in some manner, since there must be
a real connection between scriptural injunctions that one should hear
and recite Vi~IJ.u's names, and the result the soul attains in doing so.
Furthermore, a rejection of agency in the self would negate the tradition's belief that there can be relationship between the devotee (bhakta)
and the Lord through the performance of particular actions even after
the separation of the self from the mind-body complex. Thus, while
Gauc,lrya Vai~IJ.ava views on agency are justified by appeal to scripture
(and the Gauc,lryas are broadly Vedantic in orientation, holding the
Bhagavata to be an informal commentary on the Vedanta-Sutra), they
are also the logical outcome of core theological commitments to the
power, efficacy, and reality of devotion as the means of salvation and the
truest expression of t):le soul after liberation.
Gauc,l1ya Vai~:t).avas hold that there is a real connection between the
devotee and the Lord established by the practice of devotion, a connection
that is only possible if there is agency in the self (atman). Furthermore,
Vedanta-Sutra (2.}31-40, the section on agency) argues Vedic injunctions
could only be efficacious if the soul is the agent of action. In his commentary called the Govinda-bha~ya (2-3-34), the prominent 18th-century
Gauc,lrya Vai~IJ.ava theologian Baladeva Vidyabhu~a:tJ.a says: "The self alone
is the agent, not the qualities of matter. Why? This is said in scripture: 'If
one desires heaven, he should worship' [and] 'one should meditate only on
the self in this world' [Brhadara!Jyaka Upani~ad 1.4.15]. If the agent is the
conscious self, then scripture is meaningful. If the agent is the qualities

z. Tattvasandarbha, sections 46-47.

Agency in the Gau41ya

Vai?~Java

Tradition

of nature, then that [scripture] would be meaningless." 3 Likewise, if there
were no agency in the self, then scriptural injunctions to perform devotion
(e.g., Bhagavata 2.1.5) would also be meaningless.
One of the apparent problems with affirming agency in the self on the
basis of scripture is that certain passages seem to deny it. The metaphysics
of the Bhagavata Purii~Ja closely resembles that of classical Sa:rp.khya-Yoga
as well as Advaita Vedanta (nondualism), 4 yet both of these schools
reject agency in the self. There are also passages in the Bhagavad Glta,
another important text for Gauc;l.Iya Vai$I,lavas, that seem to reject agency
as a real feature of the self. 5 The argument of this chapter, following Jiva
Gosvamin, is that although the Bhagavata Purii~Ja (and other essential
texts) appears to negate agency in the self, it in fact argues that agency is
a real, inherent, and eternal feature of the self (iitman). We argue, therefore, that the Bhagavata's conception of self is inconsistent with Advaita
Vedanta's conception of the self. We attempt to show how Jiva and other
noteworthy Gauc;l.Iya Vai$I,lava theologians such as Visvanatha Calcravartin
and Baladeva Vidyabh11$a!,la interpret the Bhagavata Purii~Ja as saying
the self has agency, and that this agency is not merely a superfluous
by-product of the contact of the self and mind-body complex (i.e., the view
ofSa:rp.khya-Yoga and Advaita Vedanta). Rather, the innate capacities of the
selflike agency, the ability to apprehend objects, and the ability to experience pleasure are expressed while in the embodied state through the self's
relationship with the mind-body complex. They agree with Nyaya that
without a body of some sort, the self is unable to express its latent powers
of agency, cognition, volition, apprehension, et cetera. 6 Furthermore, they
agree with Sa:rp.khya-Yoga that the self is ontologically distinct from matter
(prakrf;i). The school is distinct from Sa:rp.khya and Nyaya, however, in that
Gauc;l.Iyas argue that after liberation there must be a real and permanent

3- jfva eva karttli na gu~)J, I kuta)J, sastreti I svarga-kamo yajetlitmanam eva lokam
upasftety-adi-siistrasya cetane karttari sati siirthakyiit gu~J.a-karttrtvena tad-iinarthakyarrr- syiit f
(I<J:~Ifadiisa 1963: 259).

4· For an interpretation of the Bhiigavata Purii~J.a as a nondualistic text, see Rukmani 1970.
Bhattiiciirya's 1960 and 1962 works are probably the most detailed study of the Bhiigavata in
the English language, and they tend toward Advaita, although a full study ofhis interpretation
is still wanting. Wilhelm Halbfass said the Bhiigavata has an "Advaitic character" (1995: 28),
and he writes: "The monistic-illusionistic tendencies of the Vai~!favas (Bbiigavatas) can be
explained as being due to their originally close relations with Mahayana Buddhism" (ibid.).

5· See Bryant's article in this volume.
6. See §1.3 of Dasti's chapter in this volume.

i i
It:

282

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

"perfected" body (siddha-rupa)? existing in the spiritual world through
which the self eternally expresses its latent powers of agency.
We examine the Bhagavata through the work of Jiva Gosvamin (ca.
1517-1608 cE), 8one ofthe most important scholars in the Caitanya Vai~:r;ava
school. Jlva Gosvamin' s method is theological in the sense that it uses logic
and reason to interpret what is considered the revealed and perfect words
of scripture, and for the most part his efforts revolve around explaining
what scripture means. 9 Like other Vedanta thinkers, he accepts the authority of the Vedas, Upani~ads, Vedanta Sutra, and Bhagavad Gfta, and he
generates his metaphysics of Brahman through philosophically informed
exegetical analysis. Furthermore, and again, lil<e other Vedantins, he
does not give reason authority independent of scripture. 10 The Gauc;liya
Vai~:r;ava arguments against Advaita Vedanta and other opposing schools
are, therefore, contentions about how scripture is to be interpreted, arguments that use purely philosophical argument in a subordinate capacity.
Jiva Gosvamin, following Caitanya, 11 also argues that in our present age 12
the Bhagavata Pura~Ja is the means by which all other authoritative scriptures should be understood. Caitanya was part of a historical tendency that

7 This term is first mentioned in Rilpa Gosvamin's Bhakti-rasiimrta-sindhu (1.2.295), on
which see Haberman 2003: 83- The Brhad-bhagavattimrta (2.3-9) talks about the attainment
of a spiritual body (panca-bhautikawtrtarr sva-deham). We will also look at Bhiigavata 1.6.22
in this regard.
8. For a discussion on the Jiva Gosvamin's dates, see Brzezinski 1990: 14-57.
9· For instance, Jiva Gosvamin (Haridasa 1981: 22) quotes the following (untraced) verse
from the Kunna Purii!Ja in his Sarva-sarrviidinf, an auto-commentary on his Tattvasandarbha:

purviipariivirodhena ko nv artho 'bhimato bhavet I
ity-iidyam uhanarr tarim/:! su~ka-tarkan ca vmjayet II
[Proper] reasoning is deliberation on what is the desirable or congruous meaning such that
it does not contradict the previous and latter [teachings in a particular text]. Dry logic [i.e.,
reasoning conducted independently of scripture] should be given up.
10. For a discussion of Sankara's arguments for the validity of scriptural interpretation as
the sole means of knowing Brahman, see Rambachan 1991.
n. See Caitanya Carittimrta (2.2 5. 97, 100, 142) for Kr$Ifadasa' s characterization of Caitanya' s
view that the Bhagavata Purii!Ja is a commentary on the Vedanta Sutra. It must be noted,
however, that Kr$J:!.adasa was the student of the Vrndavana Gosvamins (Jlva in particular),
and thus what he says about Caitanya is mediated by the Gosvamins.

12. In Tattva Sandarbha (section 12) he argues the problem with the Vedas is that right now
it is difficult to understand them properly, one reason being that the sages give mutually
contradictory interpretations of Vedic meaning. He quotes Mahiibharata 1.1.267, which says
that one should supplement one's understanding of the Vedas with the Epics and Purii]fas
and later in the TS he argues the Bhiigavata is the best of the Purii]fas.

Agency in the Gau4fya Vai07Java Tradition
had begun much earlier, one that saw the Bhagavata as the quintessential
scripture. 13 It was not until the 16th century that bhakti theologians Jiva
Gosvamin, Vallabha Acarya (1479-1531) and Srinatha Calcravartin argued
in their extensive writings that the Bhagavata Pura~Ja holds a status equal
to or even superior to the Vedas, Upani~ads, and Vedanta-Sutra. They used
it as the source of their theologies and as the lens through which all other
Hindu scriptural texts were understood.
Our analysis focuses on Jiva Gosvamin's seminal work Six Essays ($at
Sandarbha), 14 a massive effort to organize the teachings of the Bhagavata.
One of Jlva's concerns throughout this work is to prevent the Bhagavata
from being interpreted in a nondualistic manner. The earliest extant full
commentary called the Bhavarthadfpika by Sridhara Svamin (ca. 1350 cE)
at times gives a dualistic interpretation of the text that is more in tune
with Jlva's theology, but in other places he interprets it according to the
school in which he was an initiated member, that ofSai:tkara's (ca. 700 cE)
Advaita Vedanta (see Timalsina's chapter in this volume). 15 Jiva Gosvamin,
however, interprets the Bhagavata as saying that there is an individual self
(iitman) that is real, eternal, and distinct from the absolute reality (brahman). It is the same and different from God (bheda-abheda), yet this relationship is ultimately beyond reason and known only through scripture
(acintya). The individual selfhas the inherent potential to act, know, and
experience pleasure, and this potential only becomes actualized through a
body, whether that be a material or a spiritual body. Furthermore, unlike
the nondualists, for Jlva Gosvamin the absolute has powers or energies

13- The 13th-century Dvaitin named Madhvacarya wrote a Bhtigavata Purti~J-a commen·
tary called Bhagavata-tiitparya-ninJaya; the 14th-century Advaitin named Sndhara wrote
a full commentary called the Bhavartha-dT.pika although there is a commentary before
him by Citsukha that is mostly lost; the 15th-century Advaitin named Madhusildana
Sarasvan, who lived after Caitanya, wrote a commentary on the Bhtigavata's first verse
called Srf.mad-bhagavata-prathama-sloka-vyakhya. See Dasgupta 1961: vol. 4, 1-2 for a list of
Bhtigavata Puril~J-a commentaries.

14- This is a set of six books containing the Tattva·, Bhagavat-, Pararniitma-, Kr$JJ-a-, Bhakti·
and Prr.ti- Sandarbhas.
15. For example, Sridhara Svamin writes in his commentary on Bhagavata 3-26.3: "the word
'witl1out qualities' [in the verse] removes the idea that [the self] has the quality of apprehension, etc. Uniiniidi-gu.JJ-atval?~ viirayati nirgUJ,ta}J)" (Kr~J;tasari.kara 1965: 959). As we shall see,
the issue of apprehension is directly connected with agency. The rejection of apprehension
as a real property of the self is predsely the Advaitic position Jiva Gosvamin will argue
against.
I,',''

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

(sakti) that are also real and eternally part of the absolute's nature. 16 The self
(atman) is considered part of a personal God's eternally real nature, thus it
shares in some aspects of his divine nature. We begin by examining Jlva
Gosvamin's analysis of the self as found in his Paramatma Sandarbha, an
essay that is primarily devoted to discussing how the transcendent, supreme
Lord (bhagavan) is manifest as an indwelling and all-pervasive being in this
world (paramatman). Since Jlva Gosvamin argues that the self (atman) is part
of the indwelling being, his analysis of the self is included in the Paramatma

Sandarbha.

Characteristics ofthe Self in the Paramatma Sandarbha
We begin with a brief outline of Advaita and Sa:rpkhya views of agency,
since these are the two schools Jlva Gosvamin opposes. In his commentary on the Taittirzya Upani$ad 2.1, Sankara argues that the three terms
describing Brahman-real, awareness, and infinite-are not three distinct qualities, but express the inherent nature of a single, unified pure
consciousness. Although he speal<s of Brahman here, his views also apply
to the self since he holds that Brahman and self are not different. He
writes:

]nona means awareness. The word jnana is constructed by
applying bhava17 [which signifies a completed state or a nominal
verb], 18 but [it does not mean] an agent of awareness because it is
an adjective of brahman, along with "real" and "unlimited." For
if brahman is an agent of cognition, reality and unlimitedness
would not be possible. An agent of cognition would undergo
transformation, so how could it be real and unlimited, since that
which is not divided is unlimited. If jfiana is taken [in the sense
of] being an agent of apprehension, [Brahman would be] separate

16. According to Jlva Gosvamin, God has three divisions of powers: antaranga (internal),
tatastha (intermediate), and bahiranga (external) (see Bhagavat-sandarbha, section 16).
17- The addition of bhiiva to Yjl'Hi accounts for the -ana suffix in jnana.
18. Abhyankar et al.. 197T 292 define the third meaning ofbhiiva: "completed action which
is shown, not by a verb, but by a verbal derivative noun."

Agency in the Gau4Tya

Vai~)!ava

Tradition

z8 5

from apprehension and the object apprehended, thus he would not
be unlimited. 19
Here Sailkara wants to say that if Brahman were an agent of awareness
and thus had an object of awareness, it would then be divided and separate
from another thing, and thus limited; this would contradict the scriptural
statements that reality is unlimited and consequently nondual. He likewise denies agency in Brahman and the self for the same reasons. As
we discuss later, one of the fundamental ways that Vai$1,1ava and Advaita
understandings of Brahman and self differ revolve around how the word
jiiiina is understood. In the Tattvanusandhana of the early 18th-century
nondualist Mahadeva Sarasvati it is stated:
Consciousness reflected in ignorance is the [provisionally] individual self[and] consciousness delimited by ignorance is the personal
God. But others say that consciousness delimited by ignorance
which is the cause [of the world] is the personal God [and] consciousness delimited by mind is the individual sel£2°
This passage explains how the illusion ofindividuality arises, both for the self
and for the personal God. Once ignorance is removed from the self, only
pure consciousness devoid of any attributes remains, hence it is devoid
of any agency also. Thus, in Advaita Vedanta the self (like Brahman) has
the inherent nature or essence (svarnpa) of pure consciousness or awareness only (cinmiitra), but apprehension and cognition are not qualities
of the self. They propose that the self becomes a knower only when in
contact with the mind, which is a property of matter and thus not-self.
Being a knower is presupposed in being an agent, since one only acts after
deliberation. Sa:rp.khya-Yoga also rejects agency in the self, but accepts the
self as witness and observer, since this school holds that matter alone

19. jnana1fljiiaptir avabodho bhiiva-sadhanojnana-.fabdo na tujnana-kartr brahma-vise~ar;atviit
satyanantiibhyiiYJ1-saha Ina hi satyatiinantatii cajnana-kartrtve saty upapadyete fjniina-kartrtvena
hi vikriyamar;aYJ1- kathaYJ1- satyaYJ1- bhaved anantaYJ1- ca, yad dhi na kuta.fcit pmvibhajyate tad
anantam I jnana-kartrtve ca jiieyajnanabhyii1?1- pravibhaktam ity anantatii na syiit (Aiyar
1910: vol. 3· 63).
20. avidyii-pratibimbitaYJ1- caitayaYJ1- fiva/:1-, avidyopahitaYJ1- caitanyam fsvara(t ... anye tu
karar;fbhiita-aji'iiinopahitaYJ1- caitanyam fsvara/:1- anta/:1-karar;opahitaYfl- caitanyaYJ1- jfva/:1(Tattviinusandhiina 1.16, 1.19).

z86

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

could not account for the fact of experience or qualia (Sii1]1khya Karika,
19). The Sa111khya Karika ofisvara Kr~:t:J-a says the self is a qualitative experiencer or enjoyer (bhoktr):
The self exists, (a) because aggregations or combinations exist
for another; (b) because (this other) must be apart or opposite
from the three gu]Jas; (c) because (this other) (must be) a superintending power or control; (d) because of the existence or need
of an enjoyer; (e) because [matter] has functions for the sake of
liberation. 21

Sa1]1khya Karika zo says that the self appears to have the characteristic of
agency because of its connection with matter, but in fact agency is located
in matter, not in the self
The Caitanya Vai~:t:J-ava schools accept that the self is aware and that it
possesses qualia (i.e., it accounts for the qualitative experience of objects),
but they add a number of other features to the self, ones that they argue
must exist if we are to account for the self's entrapment in the cycle of
birth and death, and for the full range of scriptural passages pertaining to
the self To enumerate the characteristics of the self Jlva Gosvamin refers
to the verses of Jamatr Muni (ca. 1370-1443 cE), who is also known as
Varavara Muni, a follower ofRamanuja (ca. 1017-1137 cE): 22
atma na devo na naro na tiryak sthavaro na ca I
na deho nendriya1]1 naiva manaly, praJJo na napi dhzly, II
na ja4o na vikarz ca jnana-matratmako na ca I
svasmai svayaYJ1-prakasal;l syad eka-rnpal;l svarnpa-bhak II
cetano vyapti-szlas ca cid-anandatmakas tatha I
aham-arthaly, prati-b;etraYJ1 bhinno'JJur nitya-nirmalaly, II

21.

smighatapararthatviit trigutuidi-viparyayiid adhi~thaniit f
'sti bhoktr-bhaviit kaivalyarthapravrttes ca II Sil1f!khya Karika 17

puru~o

II

Translation based upon Larson (2001).
22. Jamatj: Munfs views seem to be based on verses from the Padma Puril~J-a, the likes of
which Jiva quotes just prior to his quotation of Jamatj:, the only difference being that the
PP does not include agency (kartrtva) in its list of the self's characteristics. Jiva provides no
explanation as to why he would make a somewhat marginal figure in the history of South
Indian Vai~l).ava thought so central to his doctrine of the self, but we suppose he was drawn
to the clarity ofJamatj:' s expression, as well as his clear affirmation of agency, something Jiva
needs given his devotional outlook, as discussed in the Introduction of this chapter.

Agency in the Gau#ya Vaintava Tradition
tatha jnatrtva-kartrtva-bhoktrtva-nija-dharmaka/:1-/
paramatmaika-se?atva-svabhava/:1- sarvada svata/:J-fF3
The selfis neither a god, nor a human, nor an animal, nor an immovable
being, nor the body, nor the senses, nor the mind, nor the life air, nor
even the intelligence. It is not inert, it is not mutable, and it is not awareness only. It is aware of itself and it is self-luminous, it has unchanging
form, it [always] resides in its true nature, it is conscious, it pervades the
body, it is of the nature of consciousness and bliss, it is the referent of
[the word] "I," there is a different self in each body, it is indivisible, and
it is eternally pure. Furthermore, it has the intrinsic characteristics of
being an apprehender, agent and qualitative experiencer, and by its own
nature and at all times it is an inherent part of indwelling Lord.
As shown below, Jlva uses the Bhagavata to elaborate upon this, and we
supplement the discussion with other sources and argumentation.

The Self is Conscious
The self is not inert Ua~a). As an observer or seer, it is understood to infuse
its consciousness into the mind-body complex by its presence in them as
a witness. According to the Bhagavata, the subtle body (consisting of the
mind, intelligence, ego, and aggregate awareness) and physical body cannot
function without being illuminated by self, but the self is self-luminous by
its very nature. Thus, whereas the body and mind require the self to function, the self does not require the body and mind for its existence. The self
is its own power of illumination, and it has the potential to apprehend, act,
and experience, but these latter qualities are manifest only when in contact
with a mind-body complex, whether spiritual or material. To dispose of the
view that the self is inert, Jiva Gosvamin quotes Bhagavata 11.13-2T
Wakefulness, dream sleep, and deep sleep are states of the intellect;
they arise out of the qualities of nature. The self is ascertained as
distinct from them because ofbeing [their] witness. 24

23- Paramiitma Sandarbha, section 19 (Haridasa 1984: 8o). We have been unable to locate
the original source of this passage from Jiimat(s writings.
24. jagrat svapna~ su~upta111- ca, gu1J,ato buddhi-vrtiaya~ J

tasiil'fl- vilak~aiJO jfva(~. sak~itvena vini.§cita~ lln.1p7

II

z88

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

The argument is that since the self is witness to the three states of intellect (all of which are part of material nature) it must be conscious; Jiva
Gosvamin will, of course, say that the self is more than a mere witness.

The Self is Immutable
If the self is a witness, it must be different from that which is witnessed,
and if it witnesses, it must be unchanging. Here we have an axiom in
Jiva Gosvamin's commentary on the Bhagavata: the self does not undergo
modifications, for any sort of modification would mean it is temporary and
not eternal; it is only the body and mind that are subjected to transformation.25 While this is an ax:iom derived from canonical texts, the rationale
for this view is that if the self were subject to changes, it could not be a witness to the changes in the body and mind, since to witness a change the
observer must remain changeless while observing the changes. If the self
were changing and transforming along with the body and mind, it could
not recognize the distinction between itself and that which changes. 26
Jamatr uses the phrase na vikarl, that is, the self is not subject to transformation. The Bhagavata (11.7-48) says:
The various states beginning with birth and ending with death are
caused by time, whose function cannot be ascertained, and they
belong to the body alone and not to the self, just like the phases of
the moon [do not affect the moon itself]. 27
Thus, any modification caused by time only affects the body (and mind) and
not the self, just as the moon is unaffected by what appears to be its different phases. The presupposition here is that any modification that could take
place has time as its general cause (samanya ktira!Ja). Just as the self can
only express its quality-potentials such as agency and apprehension through
a mind-body complex, the mind-body complex can only act in time.

25. As noted by Bryant in this volume, this is an axiom of Sarplchya, and to some degree,
Indian philosophy in general.
26. This is also accepted by Patafijali (Yoga Sutra 4.18), "Because the self, the master of
mind, is free of any modifications, it always knows the changing states of the mind."

27-

visargiidya~ §masiiniinta, bhava dehasya natmana~ j
kaliiniim iva candrasya, kiileniivyakta-vartmana IIIL?-4811

Agency in the

Gau~fya

Vai$7Java Tradition

One might question, then, how actions such as reciting the Lord's
names could take place in the spiritual world since the Bhiigavata
(2.9.10) states that this world is without the power or course of time (na
kiila-vikrama/J,). In other words, how can one say that Vaiku:t;tha is beyond
the scope of time; that all action can only take place in time; and that the
self performs actions in Vaiku:t;tha in relation to the Lord? Gaw;lryas interpret the Bhiigavata verse quoted above and others like it as only saying
there is the lack of time's destructive influence or power, but the spiritual
world is still considered sequenced, albeit in a fluid and unfixed manner.
While the destructive aspect of time is absent, the expression of the self's
agency still requires the existence of sequence (even if nonlinear) as a general cause, just as it requires a spiritual body, mind, et cetera.
Later we shall discuss how the Bhiigavata sees agency as an inherent
feature of the self, yet one might object that agency entails a transformation in the agent. As noted in Bryant's chapter in this volume, it was for
this reason that Aniruddha, an important commentator on the Sii1]1khya
Sutra, rejects agency in the self. Tbe Bhiigavata holds that the self acts as
an agent like a magnet acts as the agent of change upon iron filings; this
allows it to be an agent but not undergo modification, as it may modifY
the shavings "at a distance" through its sakti. The self, lilcewise, performs
action at a distance, influencing the d1anged without itself undergoing
modification. 28 In his Govinda Bhii$ya on Vediinta-Sutra 2.3-33 Baladeva
writes:
Because it is said [in the scripture] that the self is the agent who
controls the life airs, [therefore] the conscious self should be understood to have agency lilce a magnet attracts [or moves] iron. Tbe life
airs and so forth are the means for controlling every other object,
but for controlling the life airs there is no other [means] than that
[self]. 29

28. Bhiigavata 5.18.38; this verse is describing the manner in which the Lord gives insentient matter the capacity for action, but it can be applied to the self as well.
29. jfva-karttrkasya priil.wpiidiinasyiibhidhiiniit lohakar~aka-ma.~J.er iva cetanasyaiva jfvasya
karttrrtval]t bodhyam / anya-graha~J.iidau prii~J.iidi karaJ.tal]t, prii~J.a-graha~J.iidau tu niinyadastrti
tasyaiva tat II (:l<r9l).adasa 1963: 159). As noted by Bryant in this volume, Vijfianabhik9u proposed a similar solution in his own commentary on Siil]1khya Sidra 2.29, arguing for a type
of"passive agency" (Bryant's words) on the part of the self

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

While this might explain how the nonphysical self can modify the
mind-body complex without its undergoing modification itself, one could
further object that the Caitanya Vai~l).ava tradition recognizes a distinction between the physical body and a spiritual body (siddha deha). The
Bhagavata (e.g., 3·15.17) talks of a post-liberation world called Vaiku:t:J.tha
to which the self can be transferred upon the perfection of its devotion
for Vi~:t:J.U or K:r~:t:J.a, and it can live there eternally in an embodied form. 30
Since the self is likened to a finite spiritual spark, 31 the question may be
raised as to whether it transforms when it adopts a spiritual body at liberation in the world of Vaiku:t:J.tha. In reply, it may be argued that the self
remains unchanging even in this case because just as in this world the
unchanging self identifies with material mind-body complex that undergoes the process of reincarnation, so while in the spiritual realm the self
identities with a spiritual body that is eternal or undying. According to the
Bhagavata (1.6.29), Narada said ofhis own liberation:
After the exhaustion of my karma I discarded [my body] composed
of the five material elements and I was united with a pure body that
is related to the Lord. 32
The significant points here are that the self is united with a spiritual body,
thus there is a distinction between the self and its newly acquired body.
The commentators note that this verse refers back to Bhagavata 1.6.23,
wherein the Lord promises Narada: "after leaving this inferior world, you
will attain the position of my personal attendant." To dispel any doubt
about the nature of this body, Sr1dhara Svamin says: "what is implied here
is that the bodies of the personal attendants of the Lord are pure, eternal, and not the creation of karma." 33 Later we show that the Caitanya
Vai~l).ava tradition recognizes two forms of the ego (aha-rrtkara), a material
or pralz:).'tic ego, and a real or spiritual ego (aham-artha). Thus, the view

30. See, e.g., Bhagavata 3.15.13- and 10.28.14. For discussion of the differences between the
physical and perfected body in GaU<;l!ya Vai:;a,1avism see Haberman 1988: chap. 5·
31. For example, Caitanya Caritamrta 2.19-140.
32. prayujyamtine mayi taryr, suddhtiryr, bhagavatl'rft tanum J
tirabdhakarmanirvti!JO nyapatat ptiiicabhautika~ 111.6.2811
33· anena ptir$ada-tanuntim akarmtirabdhatvaryr, §uddhatvaryr, nityatvam ity-adi sucitaryr, bhavati (Kr~J:fasankara 1965: 398). Cf. Bhagavata 7-1.35·

Agency in the

Gau~zya Vai~JJava

Tradition

proposed here is that the real, spiritual ego causes the self to identifY with
the spiritual body, and it acts as an unchanging agent through that body as
an eternal attendant of the Lord.

The Self has the Inherent Power of Consciousness
A central question raised by many Indian philosophical schools is whether
or not the self is the direct bearer of qualities like awareness or volition. 34
Jamatr Muni says that the self is not mere awareness Unana-matratmalw
na), but it also has the power to apprehend objects as a real and eternal
quality Unatrtva). In Advaita, by contrast, the self is aware, but the power
to apprehend objects is considered extrinsic to its essential nature. The
Bhagavata (5.11.12), however, says:
The pure self sees these manifestations of the mind that continually
appear [in waking consciousness and dream sleep] and disappear
[in deep sleep], which are actions performed by the impure agent,
i.e., thejlva [the embodied atman], which is the creation of maya. 35
This means that the self has apprehension as an attribute since it knows
the body, the presupposition being that only an entity with the power of
apprehension could see (vica~te).
This seeing is different from the "awareness only" of Advaita
because it is the pure self who sees and understands the manifestations of the mind; it is not an action of the mind (anta~-karaJJa). As
shown in this verse, the Bhagavata states that the pure self is a subject
who can have an object, whereas for Advaita the pure self is beyond
the subject-object distinction. Thus, when Jamatr Muni said, "the self
is conscious of itself (svasmai) and self-luminous (svaym11 prakasa~),"
Jlva Gosvamin understands this as showing that the self has apprehension as a real attribute and that the subject can become its own object.
The word prakasa, or "light," can either refer to something's capacity
to illuminate an object or to the inherent luminous nature of an object

34· As noted by Dasti in this volume, Udayana separates properties from the property
bearer, which allows him to say the self (i.e., the property bearer) is unchanging, yet its
properties (e.g., cognitive states, volition) can change.

35·

k~etrajfia eta manaso vibhutfrjfvasya maya-racitasya nitya~ f
avirhitii(~ kvapi tirohita§ ca §uddho vica~te hy avi§uddha-kartu~

lls.n.12 II

! :r

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

(like the sun, whose illumination is not derived from another source).
A sundial, for example, must be illuminated by an external light source
since it lacks an inherent luminosity. The sun, however, has the inherent quality of illumination. The self, on Jamaq' s view, has its own power
of illumination, and it is conscious of itself-in addition to external
objects-by its own self-illuminating power. It is for this reason that Jlva
Gosvamin refers to the self as cid-rupa, or conscious by its own nature,
to describe consciousness throughout his Sandarbhas. Yet Madhava
in his Sarva-darsana-saYJ1-graha also uses the word cid-rnpa to describe
the inherent nature of the self as only pure awareness ljniina), but Jiva
Gosvamin uses it to mean that self is aware of itself and of objects.
Since it is often used loosely, an analysis of the word jniina of our own
development will help to clarify these issues. ]niina is derived from the
verbal rootjnii meaning "to know" by applying the -ana suffix. 36 One can
derive three senses: (1) abstract verbal noun (bhiiva), (2) an instrument
(karaiJa), and (3) locus or substratum (adhikaraiJa). Therefore we derive the
following three senses from the word jnana:
(1) ]niina here refers to understanding, awareness, experience, knowing,
consciousness. As per Sankara's usage, jniina in this sense means a
state ofknowing that is without any content, or "awareness only." It
does not reveal anything except the subject itself.
(2) ]niina here refers to that by which one knows an object. ]niina in this
sense has content, which is disclosed to a knowing subject.
(3) ]niina indicates here the one in whom there is cognition.]niina in this
sense is a subject that possesses content, or the obe in whom reside
cognitions.

We showed above that (1) is Sankara's view-the true nature of the self
is contentless awareness, revealing only the subject without any object.
The Bhiigavata's view of God (e.g., 1.2.11) and self is that of (3), since both
God and self possess apprehension as natural or innate feature of their
being; this entails the existence of (2) in them as well. On this view, (2) is

36. See Pii!).ims A$ttidhyayf3.3-115, lyut ca, "The affix lyut is added to the root when the name
of an action is expressed in the neuter gender." And 3·3·117, kara~Ja-adhikara)J.ayo.f ca, "the
affix lyut comes after a root when the relation of the word to be formed to the verb is that of
an instrument or location." Translations based on Vasu (1894: 525-526).



Agency in the

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Tradition

2 93

considered a mental state (ajnana-vrtti), whereas (3) refers to what many
Vai$pava thinkers mean by jnana-svarnpa, a subject's inherent capacity for
knowledge, that is, its capacity or quality-potential to apprehend. Thus,
on the Vai$pava view (3) refers to the essential nature of the self, whereas
(2) is its quality (guJJa), which manifest when the self is joined with a
mind-body complex. We are using the word gu)!a (quality) loosely here.
The relation between the self and its vrttijnana is similar to that of magnet
and the movement it creates in the iron shavings. It is none of the conventional relations in Nyaya of contact or inherence because the knowledge,
like the movement in fillings, is external to the self
In summary, when Advaitins use the word jnana-svarnpa, however,
they mean it as (1), whereas Vai$pavas mean it as (3). Thus, one might say
the fundamental difference between Vai$pava and Advaita theology is in
the application of lyut as adhikara"J!a versus bhava. For Vai$pavas knowledge thus belongs to a subject and it is "contentful," that is, it has reference to an object; but knowledge in this latter sense of (2) is a fluctuation
of matter, that is, an inert function of matter in the embodied state, and a
function of spiritual substance in the spiritual world.

The Self is the Referent of the Word "I"
Jiva Gosvamin claims there are two types of ego or identity: an incorrect conception of self that is caused by a function of matter called the
ahaf11,kara, and a correct conception of self (aham-bhava). He says the self
is the meaning or referent of the word "I" (aham-artha) because the object
of "I" is the feeling or sense of being an "I," and he thinks the sense
of self is real, but when that sense of self is focused upon the physical
body and mind, it is called the ahaf11,kara. In its most pure state, the self
knows the "I" as the atman or the real self, whereas in the impure state
the self wrongly considers the referent of "I" to be a particular mind-body
complex. Whereas the ahaf11,kara is extrinsic to the self, the aham-artha is
intrinsic. As discussed below, much of the argumentation presented by
Jiva Gosvamin in this regard relies on a second axiom: there must be an ego

for there to be any apprehension whatsoever.
Jiva writes in his Sm1Ja Sarrwadinf (an auto-commentary) on Paramatma
Sandarbha (section 22):
Because of reflecting "I slept well" immediately after deep sleep it is
understood that even in that [deep sleep] there is an inherent ability

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

for apprehension, an inherent feeling ofhappiness and an inherent
sense of"I." 37
Jiva is saying that in deep sleep, when the material or pralqi:ic ego is nearly
nonfunctional or idle, there must be a capacity inherent within the self
that allows it to have the experience of happiness, since all extrinsic and
material appendages of the self are nearly nonfunctional. In order to justify the existence of these two types of ego and to show the necessity of the
spiritual ego he quotes Bhiigavata 11.3. 39:
The vital air follows the self-whether it is born of egg, womb, seed,
or other unknown origin-here and there [in the different bodies].
When in deep sleep, when the collection of the senses and the sense
of identity is idle, the self remains without the mind. After the deep
sleep we remember [the experience of sleep]. 38
This verse says that the material or pralqiic ego is idle or nearly nonfunctional in deep sleep. Yet, since we remember the experience of sleep upon
waking, Jiva Gosvlimin infers that the spiritual ego was active. Thus, the
spiritual ego or innate sense of self is being described in this verse.
While not made explicit, in order to render this interpretation of the
verse Jiva Gosvlimin relies on the second axiom, that is, without an ego
there is no experience. 39 In other words, experience, or being a knower, is
only possible with an ego. Therefore, Jiva Gosvamin argues that since the
material ego is idle in deep sleep, and since there is still experience in
deep sleep because one remembers the nature of that sleep upon waldng,
there must be second ego that facilitates that experience. This is the real
ego, inherent in the self This is corroborated in Brhadiira~Jyaka Upani~ad
4-3-11: "When the body is subdued by sleep, the sleepless one sees the
sleeping one [i.e., mind-body complex]."40 Jiva Gosvamin comments on
this as follow: "It was previously established that although the self is

37· evaifl sukham aham asvapsam [na kincid avedi~am] iti su~upty·anantaraif! paramarsat
tatrapy aham-arthata sukhitajfiatrf;ii ca gamyate (Haridasa 1984: 21).
38.

aJJt;le~u pesi~u taru!'lJ aviniscite~u, prtiJJo hi jfvam upadhavati tatra tatra
sanne yad indriya-gaJJe 'hami ca prasupte, kuta-stha asayam rte tad-anusmrtir na/:1 II 11.3·3911

39· Like the first, this axiom is accepted by many India schools, e.g., Advaita, Sii:qJkhya,
Yoga, and Nyaya.

40. svapnena stirfram abhiprahatyasupta/:1 suptanabhicakaSTti f BrhadaraJJyaka

Upani~ad 4-3 .n

Agency in the Gau4fya

Vai~)Java

Tradition

2

95

awareness only it also has the potential to apprehend; this is not possible
without the sense of'I'." 41
One might wish to say that there is no experience whatsoever in deep
sleep, rather upon waking from deep sleep one infers "I slept well" because
one's body and mind feel rested, just as one might infer someone had
cooked rice in the kitchen because one smells the residual fragrance even
if one had not experienced the cooking. This is not Jiva Gosvamin's interpretation, because to make an inference one must have prior knowledge
of the relationship between the cause by which one makes the inference
(hetu) and the object inferred (siidhya). In the above example wherein
one infers cooking from the fragrance, one is able to make that inference
because one knows of the relationship (vyiipti) between cooking rice and
its smell. If there is no experience in deep sleep, how is the relationship
between cause and the effect established? There is no knowledge of the
relationship between deep sleep (the cause) and feeling well (the effect,
sadhya), so there could not be an inference. We do have a memory ofbeing
deep asleep; and if there is a memory, there must have been an ego that
produced the experience that allows for the formation of a memory.
From the point of view of Yoga, the experience of deep sleep is the
eA.rperience of the nonexistence of a mental fluctuation. The Yoga Sutra
(1.6) accepts five mental fluctuations or states (vrtti), and the Bhagavata
(3.26.30) accepts the same five with slight terminological differences: correct cognition, false cognition, imagination, memory, and deep sleep. All
experiences are said to fall under one of these categories. The first four are
mental fluctuations that exist (bhiiva-vrtti), and the last is the absence of a
mental fluctuation (abhava-vrtti). The latter is known by the experience of
its absence, like at night one experiences the nonexistence of the sun-in
deep sleep the self experiences the nonexistence of mental fluctuations.
Thus, Jlva Gosvamin means that in waking life the material and spiritual
egos are mixed, and in deep sleep the spiritual ego allows for the experience of the absence of any mental fluctuation.
We wish to argue below that there must be a power of identification
or an ego inherent within the self, otherwise the fact of the self's absorption in matter would not be possible. The problem for Sarp.khya-Yoga and
Advaita Vedanta is that while they agree the self is absorbed in matter, they

41. jfiiina-mtitratve'pi jfiatrtvarr catmana/J, purvarr siidhitam f tac ciiham-bhiivarr vincz na
sidhyatrti (Haridasa 1984: 15-16).

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

do not provide the self with the inherent power by which it could become
absorbed in matter. In a discussion on Sarp.khya-Yoga, the Bhagavata
(3.26.6) says:
Thus, on account of absorption in the other [i.e., matter] the self attributes agency to himself regarding actions that are [in fact] performed
by the gn7Jas of matter. 42
In distinction from Advaita, the Bhagavata says it is the self (the atman or
puru~a43 ) that bestows agency to matter because it is the self that is absorbed
in matter. 44 Thus the aham-artha is alluded to, since without the aham-artha
the self would not be the agent of absorption in matter, just as an actor without an ego would not be able to adopt the personality of the character he or
she acts out.
The verses prior to this describe that the Lord creates the various material
forms by the qualities of nature45 and as soon as the selflooks upon (vilokya)
them, he at once becomes bewildered. The "looking" here is not to be taken
literally; it suggests that the self has an inherent power of seeing, comprehension, and action (and thus an ego) since it looked upon matter prior to
its connection with a mind-body complex and then identified with it. As a
consequence, the self considers the agency of matter to be the agency of the
self although it is not; but without an ego inherent in the self, the false cognition "I am matter, my body is acting" could not occur in the mind with which
the self identifies. However, this is not to deny that agency is in the self since
the Bhagavata (11.25.26) also says that agency remains in the self, even when
divorced from all qualities of nature:
An agent who is free from attachment is qualified by the material
quality of goodness, it is said that [an agent] qualified by the material
quality of passion is blinded by desire, [and an agent] qualified by the

42. eva111 parabhidhyanena kartrtvaJ?1 prakrte~ puman f
karmasu kriyamiiiJe~u guiJair iitmani manyate II p 6. 6

II

43· The grammatical subject of the verb, manyate, is not named in 3.26.6, but is carried
over from 3-26.}, where it is defined as the beginningless iitman, which transcends matter.
44- Although this verse seems to say that agency (kartrtva) is in matter, we shall discuss later
why this is not the case.
45· Sr!clhara Svamin notes this is his play, lflii.

Agency in the Gauqfya

Vai§~Java

Tradition

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97

material quality of ignorance is lost to introspection. [An agent] who
has taken refuge in me is without any quality of nature.4U
This is another reason why the Bhagavata's conception of self is inconsistent with classical Sarpkhya-Yoga and Advaita, since it is the self (even
when freed from the gu)Jas) who takes refuge in the Lord and not the
properties of matter such as the aha~pkara. Furthermore, this establishes
the possibility of agency in the post-liberation state.
If the self is able to become absorbed in matter, it must possess its own
innate sense of"I," such that it could be the agent ofidentification. Unlike
the classical Sarpkhya ofisvara Kr$:t;ta or the Yoga of Patafijali which say
that the sense of "I" is only a function of matter, on the Bhagavata's view
there must be an inherent capacity of the self that allows it to cast its feeling of"I" onto the physical body and mind (manas). The Caitanya Vai$:t;tava
tradition holds that it is impossible to identify with an object if one does
not have an ego or "I-maker," so there must be certainly a distinct ego in
the self. In this regard, Jiva writes in Paramatma Sandarbha, section 29:
On account of meditating upon matter [see Bhagavata 3.26.6], or, in
other words, because of intentness upon matter, one thinks "I am
nothing but matter." By thinking thus, one considers the agency of
the actions performed by the qualities of nature to be in the self.
Since it is not possible for one without a sense of"I" to identify with
another, and since the ego is produced from absorption in matter
and is a covering [over the self], there must be another distinct
sense of ''I" in the self. Clearly, then, that [ego] is not the cause of
saYJ1sara since it is located in the pure, essential nature [of the self]. 47
In summary, the atman has its own ego called the aham-artha, and it
allows it to witness the aha~pkara. This is justified by the experience of
deep sleep, which is the experience of the inactivity of the material ego

46. siittvika/:l kiirako 'sangf, riigiindho riijasa/:l smrta!~
tiimasa/:l smrti-vibhra$!O, nirgu7Jo mad-apasraya/:llln.zp6
Sndhara Svamin glosses kiiraka/:l as kartii, or agent.

II

4 7 pariibhidhyiinena prakrtyave.Sena prakrtir eviiham iti mananena prak!ti-guJJai/:1 kriyami'i7Je$U.
karmasu. kart,rtvam iitmani manyate I atra nirahambhiivasya pariibhidhyiiniisambhaviit
pariive.Sajiitiihankiirasya ciivarakatviid asty eva tasminn anyo'hambhiiva-vi§e$a/:l I sa ca
su.ddhacsvarnpa-miitra-ni$!hatviin na Sal'f'lsiira-hetu.r iti spa$tam I (Haridasa 1984: 99)

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

Table I2.I. The self's relationship with the mind-body complex
Inherent properties of
self (antaranga-sak:ti-s)
FOUNDATIONAL &

Extrinsic properties of self
(bahiranga-sak:ti-s)
QUALITY-POTENTIALS QUALITY-MANIFESTATIONS

UNCHANGING

self-luminous
unchanging form
situated in its own
nature
conscious
consciousness
bliss
meaning of"'''
atomic

apprehension
agency
qualitative
experience

Apprehender
Agent
qualitative experiencer
external awareness

identification with body

(abhava-vrtti). Since there must be a witness of this unawareness in deep
sleep, since the act of witnessing entails an ego, and since the ahayt1kara is
idle, there must be a spiritual ego inherent in the self. The tradition holds
that without a real sense of"''' in the self it would be impossible for it to
identify with the material mind-body complex, so it rejects the SarpkhyaYoga and Advaita conception of self because they cannot account for the
self's absorption in matter. While much of this discussion is on the conditions needed for apprehension ljiiatrtva), these are necessary preconditions of agency (kartrtva) since to act entails knowing what to act upon.
At this point we can outline the general scheme of the self and its relationship with the mind-body complex (table 12.1).
By the inherent properties of the self we mean those properties that
are the defining features of the self. There are two aspects. The first, foundational, are always present and do not require anything other than their
own self-luminous nature to be manifest. The second, quality-potentials,
are aspects of the self that require a mind-body complex (whether material
or spiritual) to be activated. They are the qualities (guJJas or dharmas) of
the self that are either manifest or unmanifest depending on whether the
self identifies with a material or spiritual body. Thus, on this view, to be an
apprehender ljiiatr), an agent (kartr), and an enjoyer or sufferer (bhoktr) it
is necessary to be an Iitman with apprehension ljiiatrtva), agency (kartrtva)
and qualitative experience (bhokrtva) as quality-potentials, and an Iitman

Agency in the Gau4fya

Vai0~ava

Tradition

2

99

with a selfluminous, etcetera foundational (adhi0thana) nature since the
quality potentials must be self-revealed to the subject. 48 Tbe "inherent
properties" of the self, then, are necessary but not sufficient conditions for
one to be an apprehender, agent, et cetera. 49

The Selves are Multiple and Indivisible
If the sense of "I" or the ego is in fact part of the self's true nature, then
it follows, as Jamatr says next, that in each body there is a different self.
Jamatr Muni also says that the self is atomic (a~u), that is, it is indivisible.
Although atomic, it diffuses its consciousness throughout the entire body.
If the self is atomic in size, there must be a separate self in each body.
Tbe Upani~ads also support this: "Tbis soul is atomic and to be known by
the intellect; the fivefold life airs are supported by it" (Mu~4aka Upani~ad
3.1. 9). "The size of the self should be known as one ten thousandth part
of the tip of a hair" (Svetasvatara Upani~ad 5-9)· On account of these and
other passages Vai~l)avas do not accept Advaita Vedanta's concept of one
soul that is reflected in different bodies. 5° When the Upani~ads do speal<
of the self (Iitman) as unlimited (ananta) 51 or omnipresent (sarvagata), 52
Vai~l)avas take them as referring to the self's qualities of eternality and its
ability to be housed in all forms oflife.

48. Jlva Gosva.min's views bear a very close similarity to Nimbarka's, who wrote, among
other works, the Vedanta-parijata-saurabha and the Dasa§lokf, but his works are interpreted through Srlnivasa's Vedanta-kaustubha and Puru~ottama's Vedanta-ratna-manju~a.
Regarding Nimbarka's views of the self, Chaudhuri (1953: 337) writes: "over and above being
consciousness in essence passively, the soul is also a conscious !mower actively, i.e. it possess the attribute of consciousness [as well as kartrtva and bhoktrtva] which appears or disappears, increases or decreases, with regard to particular things according to circumstances."
49· In Nyaya there is a distinction between the potential capacity (svarnpa-yogyata) and
function capacity (phalopadlu'iyi-yogyata) of objects. A tree branch has the potential to be a
cricl<et sticl<, but its functional aspect would remain unmanifest until the wood is treated
(Bhimacarya Jhalakikar and Vasudevasastri Abhyarikara 1978: 1057). Likewise the self as the
potential for agency, etc., but these functions remain unmanifest until the self is connected
to a mind-body complex.
50. See Jlva Gosvamin's Tattvasandarbha, sections 37-40 for arguments against these and
other Advaita views.
51. Svetasvatara Upani~ad 5·9·
52. Bhagavad Gfta 2.24.

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

The Self is the Apprehender, Agent, and Experiencer
Jiimiitr Muni uses the wordjiiiitrtva to express that the selfhas the capacity to know. jfiiitr means "a knower" and the suffix -tva gives it an abstract
sense, often translated as "-ness," to express an a state ofbeing. The body
is considered lifeless and without awareness; it appears to become conscious because of the self's presence within it. Likewise, ]Iva Gosvarrtin
argues that the mind-body complex is made of inert matter, but it acquires
the power of agency or the ability to act (kartrtva) when it is in relationship
with the self The Bhiigavata (6.16.24) characterizes this view as such:
The body, senses, life airs, mind and intelligence-when all these
are contacted by a ray of his [the iitman's] presence, they perform
work and not otherwise, just as an unheated piece of iron is not able
to [burn or express light]. That [self] acquires the name "seer" in the
different states of mind. 53
The agency that appears to exist within the body is not an innate attribute
of the body, mind, et cetera, but it is a characteristic of the self when dif.
fused into the body, et cetera. The analogy here is that heat and light are
not innate properties of iron, but when iron has become heated it talces
on the properties of fire; lilcewise, the body, mind, and so forth. talce on
properties of the self when in contact with the self
This is the way the Caitanya Vai~I).ava tradition interprets well-known
verses in the Bhagavad Gftii (18.13-15):
Arjuna, hear my explanation of the five causes for the accomplishment of all action according to conclusions of Sarp.khya: the location, the agent, the various means, the various endeavors, and fate.
Whenever an action is undertalcen with body, speech, or mind,
whether right or wrong, these five causes are present.
The 18th-century commentator Visvanatha Calcravartin says that the "location" is the body, the "agent" is the connector between the self and inert

53· dehendriya-praJJa·mano-dhiyo 'mf, yad-amsa-viddhal;l pracaranti karmasu
naivanyada lauham ivaprataptalf", sthane$U tad dra$tr-apadesam eti ll6.r6.241/
Srldhara glosses sthane$U as jagrad-adi$U, i.e. in the different states of mind starting with
waking life.

Agency in the

Gau~fya Vai~1:rava

Tradition

3 01

matter called the ego (aha!ftkiira), the "means" are the sense organs, the
"endeavors" are the movements of the life airs, and "fate" is the immanent
being, the inner impeller of all. By saying the "agent" is the material ego,
or the link between inner matter and consciousness, 54 Visvanatha implies
that agency (in this world) has two contributing causes: the innate capacity of the self for agency, and the mind-body complex through which it is
enacted. Baladeva Vidyabhil~al)a, another 18th-century Caitanya Vai~l)ava
commentator, simply says that "agent" refers to the "self" ljzva), and he
quotes Prasna Upani~ad and Vedanta-Sutra to justifY his position. 55 The
Bhagavata (3.26.8) also states:
The wise know that matter is the cause of the body, the senses, and
agency. The self, which is superior to matter, is the cause of the
experience of distress and happiness. 56
While this does seem to locate agency in matter, if this verse is seen in the
context of the other verses (discussed above), it can be interpreted as saying
that the self is the original source of agency, and it infuses its agency into
matter, which in turn becomes the cause of agency for the body and senses.
Other verses seem to explicitly reject agency in the self. Bhagavad Gfta
3.27 for example says:
In all circumstances actions are performed by the qualities of
nature, but the self, deluded by the material ego, thinks, "I am the
agent."
While prima facie this verse seems to support the absolute rejection of
agency one finds in Advaita and classical Sarpkhya, we argue it does not
undermine the view ofagencywehave argued here. Baladeva Vidyabhil~al)a
reads Gftii 3.27 as speaking to the self in the ignorant state (the avidvan, in
Gftii 3.25) who wrongly thinks he is the independent initiator ofactivities

54· karta cijjaqa-granthir ahankara)J

(Kr~J.ladasa

1966: 443-444).

55· e~a hi dra~!ii sra~/ii. "·he is the seer and he is the actor" Pra§na Upani~ad (4.9); karta
§astrarthavattvat, "he is the agent [and not matter, pralqti] because this gives the scriptures a
purpose" Vedanta-Sutra (2.3-31).
56.

karya-kara~Ja-kartrtve, kara~Jaytt prakrtirtt vidu)J
bhoktrtve sukha-du)Jkhanaytt, puru~arr1- prakrte!J param llp6.8

II

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

that are in fact conducted by the self in conjunction with the functions of
matter, which are themselves moved by the Lord. But let us first consider
who or what is the subject of the verb (manyate, "he thinks") since it is not
fully defined in the verse. It cannot be matter (prakrti) alone, since matter
does not think without the presence of the self, and it cannot be the self
(iitman) considered as entirely unconnected with matter since the verse is
directed to embodied selves, and in particular those without knowledge.
Furthermore, if the subject of manyate were the mind (manas) (which can
only function or think when animated by the self), then the verse would
be muddled because the mind is one of the aspects of matter (cf. Gztii 7-4),
and thus there would be nothing wrong if it thought itself the agent, for it
would in fact be the agent. If the mind were the subject of manyate, then
it should think itself as agent, otherwise it would be deluded, but minds
without subjects cannot be deluded anyway. Thus, the subject of manyate
is the embodied self (the jfva, i.e., the iitman connected to a mind-body
complex), which implies the self has the ability to apprehend Unatrtva)
since "he thinks" (manyate). The thinker (i.e., the subject of the verse) is
deluded because he thinks he acts independently of matter's constraining
influences and God's oversight, but this does not deny his agencyY That
is why Gftii 18.16 says he who thinks the self is a completely independent
agent is wrong. As an aside, we may reiterate that the possibility of being
deluded entails the ability to identify with matter, and such identification
requires a type of agency. In other words, the ability to think necessitates
the self having used its innate agency to identify with a mind-body complex suitable for thinking.
That such verses are meant to teach that the self does not act independently of God is also discussed in the Vediinta-Sutra. While discussing Taittirzya Upani$ad 2.5 in Govinda-bhii$ya 2-3.34, Baladeva argues that
it is the self Uzva = vijfiana) who performs the Vedic rituals Darsa and
Paun;amasa. Furthermore, when it is sometimes said in the scripture that

57- Baladeva Vidyabhu~al)a is most clear in this regard. He writes: "The self is the agent,
whose agency is effected only by the three, i.e., the body, [the senses, and the deities of the
senses], and by the immanent Lord whose is the instigator of everything, but not simply by
the jfva alone. And yet the jfva, because of the bewilderment of the material ego thinks 'this
is effected by me'."

kartur atmano yat kartrtvaYfi. tat kila dehadibhis tribh* paramatmanii ca
sarva-pravartakena ca sidhyati na tv elcena jfvenaiva·J tac ca mayaiva sidhyatfti jfvo yan
manyate tad ahankara-vimau¢hyiid eva (Kr~J.ladasa 1966: 102-3).

Agency in the Gau¢zya

Vai~7!ava

Tradition

the [self] does not have agency, this is because [the self] does not have independent agency. 58 In his translation and exposition of the Govinda-bhii?ya,
Srisachandra Vasu comments on this that the self's "activities are depending on the willofthe Lord" (Vasu 1912: 372). Below we clarify what is meant
when one says an agent is not an independent agent.

The Self is Part of the Immanent Lord
Jiva Gosvamin distinguishes the immanent Lord (paramiitmii) from the
supreme personal Lord (bhagaviin). According to him, Bhagavan is transcendent God who abides in the spiritual world called Vaiku:t:J-tha, whereas
Paramatma is a form of Bhagavan that resides in and has dominion over
the physical world. This aspect of the singular, non dual supreme being is
also called puru?a or mahii-puru?a, and it supervises the emanation, conservation, and dissolution of material universe. This paramdtmii resides
as the immanent being in each physical body that inhabits the created
world. To justifY this position, Jiva Gosvamin (Paramatma Sandarbha, section 34) interprets the Bhagavad Gltii (15.7) as saying the self is eternally
part of the immanent Lord, even in the liberated state: "The eternal living
being is a part of myself."5 9

Free Will and the Supremacy of God
In this section we look at some traditional Sanskrit grammatical issues
relating to agency and free will as discussed in Jiva Gosvamin's own
Sanskrit grammar called the Hari-niimiimrta-vyiikara/!a. He writes:
The agent is of three types. It is said60 that the "agent simpliciter"
is independent. The "causative agent" is one who causes another to
perform action. The "agent under the control of the causative agent"
is one who is made to perform an action. (Haridasa 1985: 93) 61

58. eva!Jl sati kvacid akartrtva-vacanam asvatant1yat I (Kr~Ifa diisa 1963: 160).

59· mamaivarrso jrva-loke,jrva-bhata/:1 sanatana)J / Bhagavad Gfta 15-76o. Cf. Piil.fini's A~.tadhyayf1.4-54-

61. karta svatantra ity ukto hetu-karta prayojaka)J
prayojakadhTna-karta prayojya iti sa tridha II Harinamamrta-vyakaraJJ-a 4.13.

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

On one level the self is the second type because it initiates action in the
mind-body complex. He is free in doing so, but the action(s) must be
approved by the Lord since the Lord is also a causative agent in the sense
that he gives sanction to action (e.g., Bhagavad Gfta 13.22 says the Lord is
the overseer and authorizer). Thus, the self is not an agent simpliciter in
an ontological sense. He is the "agent under the control of the causative
agent." The Lord is a causative agent because he gives the approval for
action, although he is at the same time the agent simpliciter since he is
unbounded by time, karma, and other constraining factors. A constraint
on the self's free will and agency, however, is its past karma and the latent
impressions (sa711skara) with which it is born. These latent impressions
create tendencies towards particular actions that are often very difficult to
control, thus one's freedom is hampered. While much more could be said
about this, we note that it is rooted in the Vedantic conception that there is
one, independent Absolute Reality and everything emanates and is dependent upon it (Bhagavad Grta 7-6, 9.10; Katha Upani~ad 5.12).

CoJZdusion
The Caitanya Vai~:t;tava doctrine thus holds that the self has the real and
inherent powers of knowledge and agency, in other words, it can know
and it can act. This is summarized well by Jlva Gosvamin:
Moreover, while it is the case that pure [self] has the power of
agency, 62 [1] nevertheless when he is conflated with Brahman the
power of agency is internalized because of the non-connection
with [the items, e.g., the mind-body complex] that link him with
karma, and because of the covering caused by the bliss ofBrahman.
That much we can agree upon. Furthermore, [2] he 63 who is possessed of the internal power (cit-sakti) in the form of devotion for
the Lord, or [3] he 64 who obtains a [spiritual] body as a companion
[of the Lord] that is qualified by a particular aspect of the internal
power, they possess agency for the service of that Lord, but it is not

62. He has already argued that there is agency in the pure self, and here he is listing three
possible ways that this agency can exist.
63. This is the liberated devotee who still lives in the material world, called ajfvanmukta.
64. This is the liberated devotee, who is living in the eternal realm ofVaikui.J.j:ha.

Agency in the

Gau~fya Vai~lJaVa

Tradition

predominated by matter. In the first case, he has superseded the
[predominance of matter] by the internal power; in the second case
he is absolutely free from matter. 65
Thus, the Gau<;liya
agency:

Vai~:!).ava

view is that there are four possible states of

(1) Agency in the embodied state, when the self is acting under the influence of maya-agency is expressed through a material mind-body
complex, which is itself under the oversight of the Lord.
(2) Agency in the embodied state when the self is acting in the service of
God-agency is expressed through the mind-body complex, but is a
form of Lord's own internal power (cit-sakti).
(3) Agency in the state when self identifies with Brahman-agency in the
self remains as an unutilized quality potential.
(4) Agency in the liberated world ofVaiku:t:J.tha-agency (as well as apprehension and qualitative experience) in the self is expressed in and
through a perfected body (siddha-deha).
The Gau<;liya Vai~:t:J.ava tradition malces a distinction between a material
and a spiritual ego; the former causes the self to identify with a tern porary
mind-body complex, but even this identification depends on the latter,
which causes the self to identify with the material ego in the embodied
state, and it causes the self to identify with the eternal, perfected body in
the liberated state of. Vailm:t:J.tha. With regard to the former, certain passages in canonical Vai~:t:J.ava texts (e.g., Bhagavata 3-26.8; Gfta 3.27) seem
to suggest that the powers ofknowing and agency are in matter alone, but
we have argued that Gau<;liya Vai~:t:J.ava theologians interpret these passages as showing that the quality-potentials of the self are only developed
in and through the self's connection with a material mind-body or perfected body, but not as denying agency in the embodied self urva) or the
liberated self (iitman). We have argued that Gau<;liya Vai~:!).ava theologians
believe the powers of agency, apprehension, et cetera are only possible if
65. suddhasyaiva kartrtva-saktau ca yasyiipi brahma)Ji layas tasya brahmiinandenavara)Jiit
karma-Salflyogasalflyogac ca kartrtva-sakter antar-bhava evety abhyupagantavyalfl, yasya ca
bhagavad-bhakti-rupa-cic-chaktyavi~tata cic-chaki-vrtti-vise~a-piir~ada-deha-priiptir vii, tasya
tat-sevii-kartrtve tu na prakrti-priidhiinyam I purvatra tam upamardya cic-chaktel;l- priidhiinyiit
I aparatra kaivalyiic ca I (Paramiitma Sandarbha, Sarvasalflviidinf, section 37, [Haridasa
1984: no]).

306

FREE WILL, AGENCY, AND SELFHOOD

the disembodied self or the liberated self (i.e., the self completely separated from its nonessential, external material casings) has them as part of
its inherent nature.

References
PRIMARY SOURCES

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Agency in the Gautjfya Vai$1;1-ava Tradition
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